Palmer Thompson-Moss and Dane Risch purchased what appeared to be a tear-down on Bergen Street and Nostrand Avenue in Crown Heights in 2013 and transformed it into King Tai, a sun-filled neighborhood bar that they designed and contracted for themselves.
“The building itself brought a lot to the table, kind of ironically,” recalls Thompson-Moss. “Everyone said, ‘What are you going to do with that thing?’ It had a dirt floor; the metal cornice was falling down. It really looked like it needed to be torn down. But we felt that the proportions of it and the fact that it was adjacent to a garden gave
it a nice feel. It felt unique to us.”
The Chinese-American restaurant that preceded it
(and named King Tai) had long been abandoned. The process of building the
watering hole required restructuring the entire roof and bringing in all new
plumbing and electric. Thompson-Moss, who went to Pratt for architecture and
now operates his own design-build firm out of Brooklyn called Grant Davis Thompson,
loved the fact that he and Risch could control all of the details from start to
finish—as owners, designers, and overseers of the construction. With Risch’s
many years’ experience managing bars in New York, the partners’ work
backgrounds are complementary, and on top of that, they’re good friends.
With a nearly perfect 900-square-foot layout, King
Tai offers a buoyant, breezy interior, which will open onto the extra-wide
sidewalk during warmer months for even more seating. Because the one-story structure
only attaches to a neighboring building on its northwest corner, Thompson-Moss
and Risch were able to design in windows on all four sides, drawing more
sunlight than most bar interiors ever get. King Tai is also lucky enough to be
situated next to the 1100 Bergen Street Community Garden,
providing sunshine and greenery through a large east-facing window.
“We wanted to create a bar space that looks good in
the daytime as well as at night,” explains Risch. The interior exudes Caribbean
warmth, with a pastel color palette that plays nicely off the rich mahogany
wood tones of the bar and table tops. The shine of the chrome bar stools adds
to the 1940s Caribbean vibe, as do the white ceiling fans and pale-pink chairs.
Thompson-Moss and Risch hunted down the flooring they wanted, white oak in
1½-inch strips, in keeping with the light touch and feel of the space.
The mahogany bar and shelving were designed by
Thompson-Moss and Risch and built by Thompson-Moss’s friend
and collaborator, master woodworker Jeff Ford.
One of the first design ideas for the interior was to create a curved soffit that would house the heating and cooling systems and at the same time provide a more intimate ceiling over the bar area and circular banquette, which Risch laughingly calls the “VIP area.” They fittingly upholstered the banquette in tropical teal-blue.
The Grant Davis Thompson crew built the circular banquette and other cabinetry.
Risch and his wife, Alison Kelly, designed
and painted the mural on the soffit, playfully referencing beachside and
underwater themes in a subtle Art Deco style. The pastel tones and silver
outlines glow day and night. The hanging light fixtures, each designating a
different area of the bar, were culled from different sources yet share the
same mid-1930s design.
Thompson-Moss’s wife, Isobel
Herbold Moss, a landscape designer by trade, gathered the wall
pockets and succulents for the hanging display near the front windows.
King Tai is infectiously inviting, with a consistent,
carefree beauty. When we visited mid-winter, photographer Michel Arnaud and I
didn’t feel far at all from sand and surf, even sun. The bar opens to the
public on Friday, March 6.
King Tai Bar,
1095 Bergen Street, Brooklyn,
NY 11216, 718-513-1025
Photographs by Michel Arnaud
by Anne Hellman